Remembering Jim McKay
Shooting from the lip
A look back at the weekend in televised sports ...
How poetic we all learned Saturday afternoon that legendary ABC sportscaster Jim McKay had passed away. For many, he will always be known as the face and the voice of the Olympics and for breaking the tragic news that "They're all gone'' during the hostage takeover at the 1972 Munich Games. But for anyone in their mid 30s and older, McKay was best remembered for coming into our homes on Saturday afternoons with these magical words:
Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC's Wide World of Sports.
A show like Wide World of Sports probably would not work today. Back then, you had a handful of stations. Watching McKay at a tree-cutting competition or a soapbox derby was better than the other choices on the few other stations. These days, there are hundreds of stations, and the sports fan is more likely to watch mainstream sports such as baseball or football, which can be found at almost any time during the weekends.
And that's sad, really, because no matter how silly the sport, how outrageous the competition, Wide World of Sports was riveting and, I'm positive, a favorite childhood memory for most people old enough to recall the show. And all of the credit goes to McKay. He took every event and every athlete seriously. Somehow watching ice-skaters jumping over a bunch of barrels didn't seem that goofy as long as McKay was calling the action. Along the way, dumb kids like me who didn't care about anything other than sports and what was for dinner learned a few things about life in some faraway place.
Of all the tributes paid to McKay over the weekend -- and all of the them on all networks were splendid -- the best line might have come from Al Michaels: "He was the greatest tour guide who ever lived.''
A suggestion for ABC/ESPN and a wonderful wait to pay tribute to McKay: Take this summer and use ESPN Classic to show reruns of Wide World of Sports. On Saturday afternoons, of course.
NBC commentator John McEnroe must have been taking happy pills over the weekend because he was handing out compliments as if they were going to become illegal by Sunday night. When the recently retired Justine Henin appeared for the women's French Open trophy ceremony, McEnroe said, "Probably the most talented player I've ever seen … the most talented female player in the history of the sport.''
Wow. Really? Better than Martina Navratilova? Steffi Graf? Chris Evert?
Then, after Rafael Nadal destroyed Roger Federer (the result wasn't a surprise, but the score of 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 sure was), McEnroe got caught up in the emotion of the moment and called Nadal the greatest claycourt player ever. He said this even though he interviewed Bjorn Borg moments later. But give McEnroe a bit of credit. Most athletes-turned-commentators like to brag about how great things were in the "good old days'' when they played. (Right, Joe Morgan?) In their time, everything was better, tougher, greater. McEnroe, however, is always the first to praise today's athlete.
Oh, interesting side note that came out of NBC's French Open coverage that was a shocker: McEnroe and Borg never played each other on clay. Isn't that hard to believe?
Best backing of the Rays
Fox's baseball pregame show broke down the Rays-Red Sox brawl of last week. Analysts Kevin Kennedy and Eric Karros came down on the side of the Rays. They credited Rays pitcher James Shields for throwing at Coco Crisp's legs instead of his head, and both said Crisp should've run to first base instead of charging the mound.
Former Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly made a smashing debut for ABC/ESPN over the weekend, popping up at the Belmont to give his 10 reasons why it was good for Big Brown to win the Triple Crown. His best was No. 5: "That name — Big Brown. I love that name. It's not one of those fancy-schmancy names. … It's just, 'Uh, well, uh, he's big. And, uh, he's brown. How 'bout Big Brown?' ''
Now that Floyd Mayweather Jr. has retired from boxing for the moment (and I say moment because it would not be shocking to see him return to the ring at some point), who is America's top fighter? HBO Boxing's Max Kellerman weighed in Saturday night: "Kelly Pavlik is poised to become the focal point of American boxing,'' Kellerman said.
Moments later, Pavlik TKO'd Gary Lockett in Round 3 to keep his WBC and WBO middleweight titles.
Not an action-packed night of boxing for HBO. In the other big fight, Juan Manuel Lopez knocked out Daniel Ponce De Leon in the first round to win a junior featherweight world title. The whole night consisted of less than four rounds of boxing.
Rays color analyst Joe Magrane, talking about second baseman Aki Iwamura after a nice play Saturday:
"I said after seeing him in spring training that I thought he would make a better second baseman than a third baseman, and he already is that.''
Nice work by the Rays TV crew to pick up on the Matt Garza-Dioner Navarro dustup on Sunday afternoon. One minor nit was analyst Joe Magrane immediately swept it under the rug, essentially saying it was no big and that stuff happens all the time. True, it isn't unusual for emotions to run high between teammates during a long season. And it probably was no big deal. But maybe -- just maybe -- it was a big deal. Maybe there is a problem beyond pitch selection. It might have been more prudent for Magrane to not decide so quickly that it was just the boys being boys.
What in the world happened to Big Brown on Saturday? Not only did he not win the Triple Crown after trainer Rick Dutrow guaranteed victory, but he pulled up and finished last. New York Times horse racing writer Joe Drape had the best line on ESPN's Outside the Lines:
"What we saw is when you taunt the racing gods, they not only smite you, they humiliate you.''
Most unwatchable sports
Sorry, but the two College World Series -- baseball and softball -- have become unwatchable. They score too many runs in baseball and not enough in softball. Two things might make it better. Eliminate the aluminum bats in baseball and move the pitcher's mound back about 5 feet in softball.
Sports fans should already be getting excited for next week's U.S. Open golf tournament. Tiger Woods returns and, for the first time, the third and fourth rounds will be in prime time because the tournament is in California. Now all we need is a showdown between Woods and Phil Mickleson.
"(Mickelson) needs to stop being the Sam Snead of the United States Open,'' Mike Lupica said on ESPN's Sports Reporters. "He needs to stop racking up second-place finishes. This is a tournament that he has to be considered at least a favorite more than Tiger because Tiger hasn't played.''
Don’t bet on it: I’m picking Tiger to finish ahead of Phil.